Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Master Messi steals the Skoko's show

International Friendly, Australia 0 v Argentina 1

PRIVILEGED. That should be the overwhelming feeling for those lucky 70,ooo or so fans who witnessed the mercurial talents of Lionel Messi live at the MCG tonight.

This was supposed to be the night where we bid a deserved farewell to a Socceroo stalwart, Josip Skoko, but it will be remembered as the night Argentina's little no. 19 wowed the G with his unique football gifts.

Controlling the match with his sublime left foot, it was Messi who dictated the tempo throughout as he demanded the ball, turned, tempted and teased the opposition. Then, with one or two defenders facing up to him (it made no difference), he would just explode off the mark, the ball seemingly glued to his foot.

On another day he might have had a penalty or two as poor David Carney, Michael Beauchamp and Lucas Neill struggled to deal with his guile, technique, pace and ability to link up with his teammates.

Peeling wide to the right, as he does for Barcelona, this was always going to be a tough night for Carney (despite the pre-match talk it would be Luke Wilkshire’s job to mark him – Messi always plays on the right, where he can cut infield and run amok), a player still learning the art of defending. In that context, this was the steepest of learning curves, and while he couldn't get close to Messi a lot of the time, Carney never gave up.

And he won’t be the only left fullback to suffer at the hands of Messi. I remember one Champions League clash a couple seasons back on a patchy Stamford Bridge pitch where he put the cleaner through three Chelsea left backs.

It didn't take the Argentines long to identify the flanks as Australia's weakness, and they were soon overloading the wide positions, holding up the ball and waiting for the overlapping supporting run. It was a joy to watch, a lesson for us on how to keep the ball in tight space and build pressure.

Messi, so strong at shielding the ball, was getting able support down the right from skipper Javier Zanetti, himself such a fine keeper of the ball, while Carlos Tevez often peeled out to the left, where he was ably supported by both Mallorca's Jonas Guiterrez and Real Madrid's Gabriel Heinze. Playmaker Insua would drift both left and right, helping create overloads.

Argentina's work in transition in the first half was also easy on the eye. Quick to pounce on any loose ball in midfield, they got men forward swiftly, especially in the wide areas. On one occasion, Heinze got in behind down the left, and might have shot instead of trying the cut-back, but hard to be critical about such a flowing build-up.

But the Argentines didn't have it all their own way. This might have been a friendly in name, but, refreshingly, it was a very competitive one. While the visitors were building up for their marathon World Cup qualification campaign and keen to redress a couple of recent losses, the Aussies were keen to exorcise their own recent demons, give Skoko and Graham Arnold a fitting send-off and, knowing that Dick Advocaat was likely to ask for the DVD, press their individual claims for the qualifiers that start in February.

Up front there were some promising signs for both Archie Thompson and Josh Kennedy, while Mark Bresciano looked in the mood over the dead ball. Just when you think you’ve seen everything in football comes a free-kick that hits the crossbar, bounces off Roberto Abbondanzieri’s back onto the crossbar and then back off the keeper’s back, just wide of the post.

In midfield, Jason Culina and Vince Grella looked happy to be back in familiar conditions, and it was good to seen Culina contributing further up the pitch.

But while the Socceroos had the odd half-chance, they couldn’t mount any sustained pressure in the first period.

After Martin Demichelis’s goal, wonderfully supplied by Messi, you sensed Argentina were just happy to sit back and soak up whatever Australia could throw at them, almost as if they were role-playing for a day when they are under the pump.

While the Socceroos bossed the ball in the final half-hour, few chances were created, a clear sign of the gulf in class, and an indicator of what we need to keep aspiring to produce.

Argentina, a world power, produce players who can make things happen in the final third and the fact they could bring Javier Saviola and under 20s golden ball winner Sergio Aguerro off the bench told of their riches. Australia, at least for now, can only dream.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But dream we should.

Yes, these are the types of players we should be aiming to produce - at least a couple of them. Good piece.

Wed. Sep. 12, 08:25:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent summary of the match Tony, you are right we were privileged to see Messi in action and your tactical analysis was spot on.

Australia struggles to break down the opposition in the final third if Kewell is not there unfortunately, we need someone that can take on his man and create the advantage. Otherwise the play just goes from right to left at the edge of the box, reminiscent of the play against Italy in Germany.

With Burns developing into that sort of player though, and Kewell returning to action I think the Socceroos will get what they need. Kennedy was also impressive but the highlight of course was Messi, i have never seen a player like him before live in action. INCREDIBLE!

P.S. Carney did well as did Valeri when he came on.

Wed. Sep. 12, 08:57:00 am AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

It was clear almost from the outset that they were looking to outnumber us on the flanks, but they moved the ball around so quickly (especially on the break) that there was often little we could do. I thought Carney and Wilkshire both did pretty well, but they had incredibly tough assignments.

And yep, good to see that Bresc has rediscovered his dead-ball prowess!

Wed. Sep. 12, 09:11:00 am AEST  
Blogger Rio said...

The refs sucked. Ripped us off on couple possessions. Making foul calls interrupting our attack and showed no cards... It's not just about the fairness of those choices. Those actions disrupted the flow of the game, reduced quality of the match.

Left corner of Australia resorted to tactical fouling in order to stop Messi. I'm not upset though, Heinze is a dirty player too :D It's necessary.

I like all those praising on Messi, but IMO the kid wasn't at his best today. He usually produces far more sprints. Messi and Carlito are working better together, too bad the two weren't 100% rested.

Once we have a proper CAM (Roman), Messi will get pushed forward, then hopefully we can sustain offensive pressure a little better. Not just for producing more opportunities, also to reduce threats from counter attacks.

You guys might not like this, but I saw 2 problems with the Australian NT.

1. The defenders weren't very impressive individually. Some good performances but they failed to shut down the 2 key offensive players of Argentina. Besides Tevez and Messi, the rest of Argentine offensive formation isn't all that good. Let's put it this way, they aren't much better than the ones on the bench.
There were some questionable calls/non-calls too, but it's a friendly, so the game was fair enough. However, that more or less helped the score staying low. One can argue that Argentines got some lucky breaks. I agree. Both side's defense looked better than they really did.

2. For the most part, Australian midfield weren't very productive. Too many unnecessary losses of possessions (to Messi several times, and if Mascherano was playing 100% today, there would of been even more disruptions in the middle), and failed to penetrate into the Argentine box (whether from the wings or down center). Several through ball tries all failed and there weren't alot of wing plays and flat crosses to utilize Kennedy's advantage in the air.

Setplay defense, height, lack of CAM, lack of proper left wingback, etc. There are quite a few bottlenecks with the current Albicelestes. Australia managed to hit 1 spot where it hurts. If you guys hit 2, then the score could of been different.

Argentina plays Chile next month for WC qualifier. I think Bielsa will lob the ball all day long to hit 3 of our weak spots at once (air, setplays and bypass our playmaker). I thought that was Australia's plan when I saw the 4-2-2-1-1, unfortunately it didn't turn out that way.

Wed. Sep. 12, 04:59:00 pm AEST  

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